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Johansson scores in OT to earn preseason win over Blue Jackets

Olofsson, Thompson also score in victory

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Marcus Johansson stared down Jeff Skinner until he felt he could no longer wait. 

The only thing standing between Skinner and Johansson, who had just forced a turnover at the offensive blue line, was the outstretched stick of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Alexander Wennberg. He considered making the pass as he slowly drifted toward the net.

"I kind of wanted to throw it over there, but I knew they were tired, I knew there was a forward playing defenseman," Johansson said. "After a while, it felt like I couldn't wait anymore. It was good to see it go in."

Video: CBJ@BUF: Johansson nets game-winner in overtime

Johansson buried a shot from in tight to clinch a 4-3, overtime victory for the Sabres inside KeyBank Center on Wednesday. The goal marked a positive conclusion to the veteran's second preseason outing, one in which he felt he made some strides while still leaving room for improvement. 

He felt similarly about the team's performance. 

"I don't think we came out and played the right way that we wanted to," he said. "We were on our heels a bit. We weren't quite there. We came in and talked about it after the first period, and we played a lot better after that, played the way we wanted to. We're a lot tougher to play against when we do that."

The Sabres were generally displeased with their puck management during a first period in which they were outshot, 8-5. The Blue Jackets claimed an early lead on a goal from Nathan Gerbe, who forced a turnover in the neutral zone and buried a shot on the rush just 5:19 into the contest. 

Though the two teams traded goals from that point on - it was also Gerbe who tied the game with 1:56 remaining in regulation - the Sabres were happier with their response during a second period that exemplified the puck-possession style of play they are seeking to establish under Ralph Krueger.

Tage Thompson, Sam Reinhart, and Victor Olofsson all scored goals in the winning effort. Carter Hutton made 22 saves in his second straight complete game. 

"I was pleased with the reaction here in the second period," Krueger said. "I thought we definitely dominated the second and third. We did still continue to give up the puck at times. Overall, we should've put it away mid-third period and didn't. 

"We recovered for the overtime win, which I thought we dominated again, so I was pleased with that reaction and the mental toughness we showed to take the win."

Players who spoke after the game felt they began to show the "connected" game they've been working to achieve during the second and third periods. Johansson noted they were on their toes when it came to pouncing on loose pucks in both zones, which allowed them to smother the Blue Jackets for stretches.

The next step, Krueger said, is finding a balance between taking risks and allowing individual skill to flourish. Though the Sabres liked their overall game in the final 40-plus minutes, turnovers allowed the Blue Jackets to tie the game twice in the third period.

"It's finding that balance and finding that maturity as a team to be patient," Krueger said. "Right now, sometimes we're trying to create something every single shift. We need to give up on a shift sometimes to make a safer player and to understand the balance between those two. 

"We're going to continue to work on it, but we don't want to take it out of their hands. We've got a skilled group. You saw it in the overtime, you saw it in the power play, you saw it in other stretches of the game that we've got some skill. It's just finding that balance will be the key for us to be successful."

 

Thompson keeps shooting

Thompson put the Sabres on the board with 52.1 seconds remaining in the first period. Zemgus Girgensons won a race to the puck at the half wall and passed back to Thompson, who buried a shot top-shelf from high in the zone as Vladimir Sobotka dashed across the net. 

Video: CBJ@BUF: Thompson rockets wrist shot past Merzlikins

It was exactly how Krueger drew it up when he detailed his decision to play Thompson on a line with Girgensons and Vladimir Sobotka Wednesday morning, with the idea being that Girgensons and Sobotka's forechecking would create chances on which Thompson could capitalize. 

"I think it all started from a great forecheck from Z and Sobey," Thompson said. "I was kind of just filling in there as F3, good defensive spot. Pucks go to you if you're in the right spot, and it popped right to me. I just put it on net and Sobey was kind of driving through as a screen. I don't think the goalie saw it, so it worked out."

Thompson leads the Sabres with 13 shots in three contests this preseason. 

 

Reinhart, Olofsson stay hot

Reinhart followed a three-point performance against the Maple Leafs on Saturday with a power-play goal to put the Sabres ahead 2-1 in the second period. 

As was the case on Saturday, the goal stemmed from Reinhart's presence in front of the net. Jack Eichel delivered a pass through traffic to Skinner, who took a one-time shot from the right flank. Reinhart cut through the crease and buried a deflection. 

Video: CBJ@BUF: Reinhart tips home power-play goal in front

Olofsson followed his own two-goal outing, meanwhile, by burying a feed from Eichel with 10:03 remaining from the third. Eichel poked the puck loose behind the net and found the young winger, who continued to show his goal-scoring prowess on Buffalo's top line.

Video: CBJ@BUF: Olofsson dials up one-time tally

Krueger said he'd like Olofsson to continue to develop chemistry alongside Eichel and Reinhart moving forward.

"They're just such smart hockey players," he said. "Victor's come in there and he's going to feed on that as we saw again today. We're looking forward to seeing that group jell and grow. But Sam and Jack just feed off each other. 

"There's an instinct there, there's a synergy off of the last year that we continue to build on."

 

Up next

The Sabres conclude the preseason in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Krueger said the lineup will feature more of the team's depth players as opposed to the veteran roster iced against Columbus.

"We will be moving with more of a view to look at our depth on Saturday than with a lineup that will start against Pittsburgh," he said. "I think it's important to see who we want to look at, what we need to look at, and keep that competition alive until after the game on Saturday."

The game will be televised on MSG, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 4 p.m.

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